12 best books for three-year-olds

01 May 2020

three year old reading book

Bored of board books and looking for some inspiring material for your three-year-old? Check out these children's book recommendations from parents.

Reading is one of life's great pleasures and, as many parents will tell you, a great way to broaden the minds of already-imaginative preschoolers who will soon be starting school.

While you may already have a bookshelf littered with board books for babies and toddlers, you can now move away from those and slowly expand the collection. And who better to give you some much-needed inspiration than parents who have gone before you?

Mumsnet users are experts when it comes to children's books. Our selection of the best books for three-year-olds is based on what has come most highly recommended on the Mumsnet forums, including our children's book topic, as well as on bestseller lists and expert reviews.

So if you're looking for a book to read that your child won't be able to put down (and you will inevitably grow very tired of), you've come to the right place.

Here are the 12 must-have books for three-year-olds.

1. The Gruffalo by Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler

1. The Gruffalo by Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler

A popular book loved by parents and children alike, The Gruffalo is the rhyming story of a mouse who goes for a walk in the woods, successfully scaring off his enemies with fictional tales of the monstrous Gruffalo.

That is until he accidentally encounters the real Gruffalo and finds out that even the most threatening of monsters aren't always as scary as they first appear.

Ages: 3-7

What parents say:

“Beautiful writing! Julia Donaldson understands language development, rhyme and rhythm for children, but also creates books that parents enjoy reading too.”

“The Gruffalo is brilliant. It's a wonderful story and Julia Donaldson is very talented – all of her books are a huge hit here.”

Buy now from Amazon

2. Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak

2. Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak

One night, after wreaking havoc in his household, a forest grows in Max's room before he sails away to a magical place where the Wild Things are.

But after taming the Wild Things and crowning himself king, loneliness seeps in and he soon realises that he must sail back to the place where he's most loved of all.

Storytelling at its finest, Where the Wild Things Are is a cleverly-written book with a very important message at its core.

Ages: 3-6

What parents say:

“My three-year-old is currently obsessed with Where The Wild Things Are and likes to pretend he is Max and say all his lines as we are reading it.”

“An essential classic in my opinion. I started reading it to my son recently, who also has a fierce temper. It helped us, being able to visualise the rage.”

Buy now from Amazon

3. The Tiger Who Came to Tea by Judith Kerr

3. The Tiger Who Came to Tea by Judith Kerr

Who doesn't love The Tiger Who Came to Tea?

A children's classic about a big stripy tiger who joins a family for tea (and possibly with a few underlying messages – Mumsnet users have many an interpretation to share), this is book has been, and will continue to be, enjoyed by families for generations.

Ages: 3-7, but two-year-olds may also love it too

What parents say:

“It's still one of the best children's books ever. I loved it as a child and both my DS and DD have loved it. Despite it being so quite old now, the images it creates are still amazing.”

“I adore reading this too, and always try to persuade DD to pick this at bedtime.”

Buy now from Amazon

4. Lost and Found by Oliver Jeffers

4. Lost and Found by Oliver Jeffers

When a lonely penguin appears at the door of a young boy, he decides the penguin must be lost and decides to return it home to the South Pole himself.

A bestselling picture book centred around a great adventure, Lost and Found is ideal for children aged three upwards.

Ages: 3-5

What parents say:

“Totally adore this book. In fact, we love all of Oliver Jeffers' books in this house. Illustrations are beautiful and the story is simple but emotive. It's a real bedtime favourite.”

“Beautiful illustrations and a really heartwarming story. My daughter loves the little penguin. It's a great book for introducing the idea of loneliness to young children, and how important friends are.”

Buy now from Amazon

5. Horton Hears a Who! by Dr Seuss

5. Horton Hears a Who! by Dr Seuss

The second Dr Seuss book to feature Horton the elephant, and also a lovely animated film, Horton Hears a Who! is a heartwarming and educational story about caring for others.

Featuring Dr Seuss' signature illustrations that we've come to know and love, Horton Hears a Who! showcases the sheer talent of this popular children's author.

Ages: 3-8

What parents say:

“It's my favourite Dr Seuss book and very quickly became one of my daughter's favourites too. The story is lovely – Horton the elephant has large ears, so he can hear the tiny Whos on their speck of dust, but none of the other jungle animals believes him.”

“A heartwarming story about little people making their voices heard, and showing that even the tiniest person can make a big difference.”

Buy now from Waterstones

6. You Choose by Pippa Goodhart and Nick Sharratt

6. You Choose by Pippa Goodhart and Nick Sharratt

Most will recognise Nick Sharratt's unique illustrations from many a Jacqueline Wilson book, but, among young readers, his interactive picture book, You Choose, has become a firm favourite.

Author Pippa Goodhart explores a whole host of scenarios where choosing is made fun – with something new and exciting to be found on every page.

Ages: 3-5

What parents say:

“It works so well. Normally we all choose our own adventure to go on, although sometimes we go together. The children never tire of choosing what to wear, what to eat and which bed to sleep in. Every time you look there is something you haven't noticed before. Great book, especially if you get tired of reading the same stories every night.”

“This is a kids' classic – and if it doesn't reach iconic status in the near future, I will be very surprised. Its endless possibilities and interactions between reader and child are fantastic. We rate this 10/10 in our household!”

Buy now from Waterstones

7. The Smartest Giant in Town by Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler

7. The Smartest Giant in Town by Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler

Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler grace our list for the second time with their picture book The Smartest Giant in Town, a big-hearted tale about a helpful giant named George who transforms himself from being the scruffiest giant in town to the smartest-looking.

But with animals who need his help (and his clothes), we soon find out that George's heart outshines his dress sense.

Ages: 3-7

What parents say:

“The Smartest Giant in Town is a perennial favourite. I got it for my son on his third birthday and, even though he's now four and a half, we must still read it at least a couple of times a week.”

“I love The Smartest Giant in Town because you get the opportunity to sing bits of it. We have two tunes for singing George’s song – it's absolute torture, like an ancient auntie let loose on a bontempi trilling away in your ears. My daughter loves it!”

Buy now from Amazon

8. Dogger by Shirley Hughes

8. Dogger by Shirley Hughes

From award-winning author-illustrator Shirley Hughes comes this classic tale about a toy dog who is lost and then finally found again.

One that will tug at those heart strings.

Ages: 3-5

What parents say:

“A lovely book with so many lessons for little ones. Dave is so upset when he loses Dogger – something all children can relate to as they all have their favourite toys. My daughter really enjoys this book. We love cuddling up together and reading it quietly.”

“This is for any child who has ever lost a favourite toy. My daughter knows all the words to this story, but never tires of hearing it read to her at bedtime.”

Buy now from Amazon

9. Mog the Forgetful Cat by Judith Kerr

9. Mog the Forgetful Cat by Judith Kerr

Mog the Forgetful Cat is the story of an unforgettable cat forever getting in the way of her owners, the Thomas family.

A delightful read about everyone's favourite family feline, this Judith Kerr classic is now available in a special 50-year anniversary edition.

Ages: 3-5

What parents say:

“I've only just discovered Mog with my daughter and it's wonderful. Delightful illustrations, which have now acquired a retro cachet, and wonderfully simple text. I also love that even the burglar gets a cup of tea!”

“The Mog books have been huge successes in this house. We've laughed so much over the expressions on Mog's face.”

Buy now from Amazon

10. Not Now, Bernard by David McKee

10. Not Now, Bernard by David McKee

Not Now, Bernard is the story of Bernard, a boy who finds a monster in his back garden and tries his best to get his mum and dad's attention. But his parents are just too busy to notice.

A book that will resonate with both children and adults, David McKee deals with a sad theme in a funny and charming way.

Ages: 4-6 (reading age), but three-year-olds will love having this story read aloud to them

What parents say:

“A clever and fabulous little book that my three kids have loved. I think they have all caught on to the fact that it raises an eyebrow for us parents by reminding us of the perils of ignoring our kids!"

“It's a simple concept but, basically, is a comment on the relationship between hassled parents and a child seeking attention. Children love the repetitiveness of it and the fact that it involves a monster. Also, the illustrations are very engaging.”

Buy now from Amazon

11. Where Are You, Blue Kangaroo? by Emma Chichester Clark

11. Where Are You, Blue Kangaroo? by Emma Chichester Clark

As new toys start arriving, Lily's favourite toy, Blue Kangaroo, thinks he's in danger of being passed down to the baby. And when he goes missing, he's left wondering if he'll ever see Lily again. But, as we soon discover, there are some things in life that just can't be replaced.

An engaging board book full of vibrant illustrations, Where Are You, Blue Kangaroo? has a sweet message that parents will appreciate.

Ages: 2-5

What parents say:

“Both my five-year-old and two-year-old love this book, and it's one that I never tire of reading. The author's illustrations are lovely and she captures beautifully how important a special toy can become to a child.”

“The pictures are lovely and the repetitive line 'Where are you, Blue Kangaroo?' gets shrieked at the top of my daughter's voice. This is a children's classic – especially if your child has a special comforter.”

Buy now from Amazon

12. Owl Babies by Martin Waddell

12. Owl Babies by Martin Waddell

With detailed illustrations and a tender tale that's embedded itself in households for almost 30 years, Owl Babies is the story of three baby owls who wake up to find their mother has gone.

Tackling the theme of temporary separation that all children are likely to face, be that at nursery or on the first day of school, this is a great read for children who need some extra reassurance.

Ages: 3-7

What parents say:

“My daughter loves this book – it's her favourite at the moment. It's got that bit of repetition in the last line of the page that little ones love.”

“My three-year-old loves this book. She has the version with the DVD, which is lovely. She likes it read with different voices for each owl baby.”

Buy now from Amazon

Verdict: the best book for a three-year-old

While we wouldn't hesitate to recommend any of the picture books on this list, parents on Mumsnet particularly love The Gruffalo.

You Choose has also garnered a fair amount of praise as well for its interactive qualities and the opportunity it gives to let children's imaginations run riot.

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